UB40 moved by Treaty story

By Peter de Graaf

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UB40 frontman Ali Campbell is challenged by Zane Henry of Te Pito Whenua, the Treaty Grounds' cultural group. Photo / Peter de Graaf
UB40 frontman Ali Campbell is challenged by Zane Henry of Te Pito Whenua, the Treaty Grounds' cultural group. Photo / Peter de Graaf

UB40 frontman Ali Campbell was deeply moved to start his tour of New Zealand with a formal welcome at the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds - and he'd love to come back to play at the Ngapuhi Festival.

Supported by Herbs and Jason Kerrison from Opshop, the British reggae band played to a sell-out crowd of 5000 at Kainui Rd Winery north of Kerikeri last night.

But their first stop was Waitangi on Tuesday evening, where the 30-strong entourage was given a formal welcome by the cultural group Te Pito Whenua.

Members of UB40 and Treaty Grounds cultural group Te Pito Whenua outside the Whare Runanga. PHOTO / Peter de Graaf
Members of UB40 and Treaty Grounds cultural group Te Pito Whenua outside the Whare Runanga. PHOTO / Peter de Graaf

It was an emotional experience for Campbell, who led the group into the Whare Runanga, the carved meeting house, and accepted the challenge issued by a Maori warrior.

Later, following his response to the speeches of welcome, band members tested the whare's acoustics by singing You Could Meet Somebody as their waiata tautoko.

Campbell said he was moved by the graciousness of the welcome, especially given Waitangi's history.

"Arohanui, big love to you all," he said.

The band had visited to New Zealand many times - this country gave them their first number one, Food for Thought, in 1980 - but had never been north of Auckland.

Campbell told the Advocate he knew nothing of the Treaty until he landed a role on the TV show New Zealand's Got Talent and read up on the country's history. What he learnt left him shocked and ashamed, he said.

"So to be at Waitangi now is very moving, and to be welcomed like that is even more special after reading about the Treaty and what happened. It really moved me."

Growing up as disenfranchised, unemployed youth in Thatcher's Britain - the name UB40 refers to an unemployment benefit form - the band couldn't help but become politicised, he said.

The first thing they did after arriving in New Zealand for the first time in the early 1980s was to join a Springbok Tour demonstration. They also met and became lifelong friends with the equally political Herbs.

"But we don't stand on a soapbox. For us it's mostly about reggae music and love."

UB40 singer Astro and Treaty Grounds visitor experience manager Mori Rapana exchange a hongi. PHOTO /  Peter de Graaf
UB40 singer Astro and Treaty Grounds visitor experience manager Mori Rapana exchange a hongi. PHOTO / Peter de Graaf

During the powhiri, Treaty Grounds visitor experience manager Mori Rapana said it was an honour to welcome a band many New Zealanders had grown up with.

He also invited the band to stick around a little longer and play at the upcoming Waitangi Day commemorations; while Marcus Rogers, who conducted the mihimihi on UB40's behalf, urged them to play at the Ngapuhi Festival in Kaikohe later this month.

A busy, six-stop itinerary means the band can't get to either event this year - but Campbell said he would love to play a Maori festival in future. Meanwhile, he was looking forward to partying at Kerikeri and very happy with the 40,000 tickets sold so far for the tour.

"We're also happy that this tour is out of the norm. We're not playing the stadiums or Raggamuffin, we're getting out and about in the country."

Hokianga cinematographer Lloyd Latimer is another life-long friend of UB40, thanks to chance meeting in Auckland in the early 1980s. He will be documenting the tour as the band continues to Hawke's Bay, Rotorua, New Plymouth, North Canterbury and Auckland.

- Northern Advocate

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